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The Roundabout Path

natschall's picture

The most recent, and perhaps most helpful, piece of advice that I got for writing essays was to write around things I don’t know how to say. I was told to just keep talking, describing what it is that I’m thinking of, and eventually I’ll either come up with the correct phrase or realize that my roundabout explanation is better than what I had been visualizing before. Thinking back, this is very similar to what I’ve been doing in my city visits. I wander around, never quite sure where exactly I’m going, or how to get where I want to get, but always reaching my destination in the end. Sometimes I’ve even come across things that I didn’t know existed but are now my favorite things in the city, like the Masonic Temple and the Board Game Art Park.

Being able to wander freely around Philadelphia is my favorite part of this course. Before, in cities, I’ve always been on a mission to see something, or had to follow a tour guide. I now know that that’s not a good way to see a city-- I mean, sure, you’ll see all the famous landmarks, but you won’t experience the real sights and sounds. You won’t get the insight into what it’s actually like to live in that city. I can see myself living in Philadelphia, something I’ve never really felt before, in any city I’ve been to. I feel alive and part of the world, which I’m sure is because I’ve gotten to wander around and see and do whatever strikes my interest.

When telling my family about this class before it started, I always said, “We get to go into the city for free!” and that was all I knew or cared about. While that is (and will always be) the best part of the class for me, it’s so much more than I ever expected. I didn’t prepare myself for the kind of thinking we do-- not only do I get to go into the city, but I’m questioned about what I did. Not just “Did you have fun?” but also “How did you have fun?” and, most intriguing for me, “Why did you have fun?” Play is perhaps the last thing I ever saw myself analyzing, but now that I have started, I think about it all the time. Even when I was playing with my four-year-old cousin over fall break, I caught myself questioning how she was playing and interacting with her environment to have fun.

I hope to somehow go deeper into this. My eternal struggle is that I know what I want to analyze and I’m able to go through the perfect essay thought process in my head while standing in line at Erdman, but, once I sit down to write, I always get trapped by my mind, unable to write what I had thought in my head. I can see the picture of what I want to get across, but I can’t see the physical body of the idea on paper. This is why I’m beginning on the process of writing around what I want to say, and why I’m so optimistic about its potential. I’m not sure how this specific paper will work out, as I didn’t have a topic in mind before I started writing like I usually try to do.

Talking to the other students is the most useful thing we’ve done in class, in my opinion. Being able to discuss what I’ve written and go back over my ideas helps me refine in words what I had pictured writing. Another related thing is reading my writing partners’ essays, which give me ideas for starting points on future essays. For many essays, I’ve read others’ even if I didn’t have to, just to make sure I haven’t wildly misinterpreted the prompt. However, I’ve been doing this less and less as time goes on. I don’t know if it’s because the prompts more immediately give me ideas that I can work with, or if I’m simply more confident in my writing abilities after all the essays I’ve written.

In any case, I’ve learned things that I never anticipated learning, both about the city and about my personal writing process. Although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, we really do learn things in this ESem. The knowledge just sneaks up on you--the best way to do it.